“Personal Epistemology” or How Do You Know What You Know Part 1

The internet, social media, and media in general, are good at giving you memes and sound bites. No real knowledge, just information floating disconnected in your mind. And then more, and more, an information buffet. This is going to be one of the deepest posts I’ve written, important for developing a thoughtful Christianity.
I’m about to teach you about an expensive word. It’s epistemology, a branch of philosophy that investigates the origin, nature, methods, and limits of human knowledge. We all have it, even though we don’t realize it, and it’s not always right. The question is, how can we set up a system of reasoning that’s correct?
I’ll take a stab at it.

First Principles

Reality hinges and sits on irreducible first principles that are the foundation of everything.
  • The principle of existence—the first being that something exists and that something is real.
Next answers the how are we here.
  • The principle of causality—no thing cannot produce something.
Not only that, something cannot give what it doesn’t have to something it causes it, like life to nonlife. That’s the principle of analogy in action.
  • The principle of identity—something has attributes that make it identical to itself, a change would make it something else. It’s one of the three laws of logic.
  • The principle of the excluded middle—since something has to be one thing or another, then it can’t be something in the middle. This is the second law/principle of reality comes in.

Trying to mix something hits the third law of logic and another first principle.

  • The principle of non-contradiction—it’s the fundamental law of reality that something cannot simultaneously be one thing, and another at the same time and in the same sense.

Confused? For example, I cannot be married to Casey, and a bachelor at the same time. A married bachelor is illogical. Before we were married I was a bachelor, now I’m married. It’s the either/or, and it’s an excellent tool to find if a claim is true or not. Just apply the claim to itself like above. Is this simultaneously true and not true at the same time?

Putting Information To The Test

That sets the framework of belief into place. To find out if a truth claim is objective, check to see if it can be affirmed or denied in line with the first principles. How to do it takes questioning.
Ask:
  1. Does it exist?
  2. What is its definition, its identity?
  3. Does it contradict itself?
  4. Is it this, or not this? There cannot be a middle ground.
  5. Where did it come from?
  6. Is it similar to what caused it?
Every question is based on the First Principles of Reality. Undeniability is the acid test the questions use to find truth among diverse truth claims.
Then you can check systems of thought with First Principles. You can check to see if it contradicts itself, obviously or in the process to form it turned out to be contradictory to its claims. Like reasonable impulsiveness.
If something is going to be there, then it will be a certain way rather than another, keeping with the law of identity. If it’s undeniably true, then anything that contradicts it is false according to the law of noncontradiction.
The small ideas with a system have to be consistent with the big ones.

Types of Reasoning

I know of three, the simplest being abductive reasoning. Its the same type used by detectives and archaeologists. It goes from an event and works it’s way back.
Say X happened, so you look at the evidence of the event, and work out the most reasonable explanation of it. The more evidence, circumstantial/indirect, and direct evidence from trustworthy witnesses, the stronger the conclusion.
How do you test the witnesses?
  1. Make sure they were actually there and in a position to see anything.
  2. See if you can find some corroboration for the witness’s claims so you can verify it.
  3. Examine the consistency and accuracy of the witnesses. If it’s changed over time then their testimony is in question. That’s why the evidential chain of custody is important to see who had it and when it changed.
  4. Check for bias on the part of witnesses. A key thing to remember is the difference between bias prior to the experience and conviction following the experience.
Bias comes down to motive, and motive comes down to three driving desires:
  • Financial greed
  • Sexual/relational lust
  • Pursuit of power
If these motivations are absent then it should be accepted as unbiased.
The next two systems of reasoning tie together, inductive and deductive. As I understand it, it’s like the scientific method, a hypothesis, and the experiment to test it.
  • Inductive reasoning looks at a bunch of effects and conditions, then generalizes it, producing a theory or explanation that can be tested with deductive reasoning.
  • Deductive reasoning takes the theory/statement, makes an observation, and predicts the conclusion. Used in a logical syllogism it’s: major premise->observation or minor premise->does the conclusion naturally run to this result.
As for the premises and evidence, you have to watch for your own subconscious ‘software glitches’-your cognitive biases that interfere with your processing.

Software Glitches

There are four that I think I have worked up a defense against are the Halo effect, availability heuristic, the anchoring bias, and the misinformation effect.
  1. The Halo effect’s perception that pretty people are better. Simply be aware of your tendency to give deference to them.
  2. The availability heuristic, where we have just a small part of a sea of information. All that information, and you’ll see just a small part of it, and understand even less of it. The use of the First Principle questions is key here. So too are looking for patterns and underlying threads that will largely remain the same despite individuals’ perceptions. Then use reasoning.
  3. The anchoring bias, where you let the first piece of information influence you. Distill it to data, file it, and build a case like a detective without allowing confirmation bias (accepting information that only confirms your presuppositions) or information bias (to seek more information where it’s not reasonably needed) to influence.
  4. To make sure you’re not getting misinformation (the misinformation effect), remove adjectives and extreme verbs from a statement so it doesn’t trigger emotions as much, making for a more clinical read. Especially with the emotionally charged 24/7 news cycle.
Work through these and we’ll finish up Next Monday when we apply these to our worldview.

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